ZocdocAnswersWhat is the difference between a heart attack and heartburn?

Question

What is the difference between a heart attack and heartburn?

I?ve always dealt with heartburn, primarily because of the foods I eat. But I?m afraid that I will have a heart attack and mistake it for heartburn. Are there clear differences?

Answer

It is correct that occasionally a heart attack is mistaken for heartburn because of similar symptoms. However, there are differences in the symptoms associated with a heart attack and those of heartburn that should be of some assistance in differentiating between the two. A very important factor in differentiating between heartburn and a heart attack is understanding your risk for a heart attack. This is important because if you are at high risk for a heart attack, you should have a much lower threshold to seek medical attention for any suspicious symptoms, because a heart attack is more likely in a high risk individual than someone at low risk. Factors that increase the risk of a heart attack are old age, male gender, family history, smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle. The only way to determine your risk accurately is by visiting a physician for a complete evaluation. This is very important because if you are at high risk for a heart attack, then special tests and medications may be required to help reduce your risk. The most common symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux disease are burning pain in the middle of the upper abdomen or the lower chest below the breastbone. If the pain radiates at all, it radiates to the back, belly, or lower chest. The pain is typically worst after spicy or acidic meals, or occasionally on an empty stomach. Sometimes people experience regurgitation of sour tasting stomach acid into the throat that leaves a burning sensation. Heartburn pain usually improves with antacids like Tums or Pepcid, and pain that continues to worsen despite taking antacids is a warning sign that the pain could be due to your heart. If you experience frequent heartburn, you should see a primary care doctor, because you may need diagnostic tests to rule out an ulcer and your doctor may recommend treatment with prescription medication to reduce the acidity of your stomach. The most common symptom of a heart attack is discomfort or a feeling of pressure below the breastbone in the lower part of the chest that does not go away, or goes away briefly but quickly returns. Occasionally, cardiac pain is felt only in the stomach and feels like a burning sensation. In this case, it is important to know other symptoms that are associated with a heart attack. Cardiac chest pain is different from heartburn in that it can radiate to the left side of the chest, one or both arms, or the neck. Another symptom suggestive of a heart attack, rather than heartburn, is shortness of breath. Other symptoms of more commonly associated with a heart attack than heartburn include anxiety, lightheadedness, feeling cold and clammy, and sometimes nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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